The Department of State to the British Embassy
The important questions concerning the Mixed Courts in Syria raised in communications received from the British Embassy on August 22 and October 17 last have been made the subject of careful study on the part of the legal and other appropriate officials of the Department of State, who appreciate the urgency of finding some solution, even though temporary, in order that the work of the Syrian courts may be carried on pending a final solution.
From conversations on this subject which the American Minister held in Damascus with the Syrian Premier and other Ministers prior to his departure for the United States,12 it appears that the Syrian Government, although desirous of reaching a mutually satisfactory agreement with the other Powers, feels that it will be obliged, for political reasons, to enlarge the jurisdiction of the Syrian national (native) courts to include that of the Mixed Courts, thereby in effect abolishing the latter.
The Department has reached the conclusion that it does not have adequate legal grounds on which to object to the unilateral abolition of the Mixed Courts in the event the Syrian Parliament takes such action, as it now seems determined to do.
Should the Syrian Government follow this course, it is the Department’s view that Syria, as a sovereign state, possesses the right to do so, and that such action on the part of Syria would not contravene any juridical right possessed by the United States. Although the United States automatically has the right to resume the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction in Syria upon the termination of the Mandate, the Department would be extremely reluctant to reestablish consular courts there under present circumstances. Of course the United States would retain the same rights to take appropriate action in cases of denial of justice to American nationals in Syria as in other countries.
The Department feels that it would be improper to insist that the Syrians amend their law in such a way as to enable them to appoint [Page 1198] other foreign judges to replace, at least in part, the present French; judges, as suggested in paragraph 8 of the Embassy’s Aide-Mémoire of October 17, although it would not be averse to independent action by them in that sense. Since it may be politically inexpedient for the Syrians to amend their law in this manner, the suggestion has been made to the American Minister that they might set up an Inspectorate General to which the Government would appoint two or more competent foreign magistrates. The Government could make such appointments, it was argued, without the sacrifice of sovereignty or prestige in the same way it could employ expert technicians for other branches of the national administration, such as finance or irrigation. The Department would be pleased to see this suggestion carried out.
Since the Department does not feel justified in instructing its representative in Damascus to approach the Syrian Government along the lines suggested in the Embassy’s communications, but is at the same time anxious that adequate maintenance of protection for foreign and minority interests be retained in the Syrian judicial system, it is suggested that a satisfactory temporary solution might be found in informing the Syrian Government that should it insist on abolishing the Mixed Courts, we would raise no objection to the work of these courts being done by the national (native) courts as a temporary measure pending final settlement and without prejudice thereto.
Such a solution would have the particular advantage of offering immediate temporary relief in this important and urgent question without committing us to any final decision. At the same time it would not improbably put the Syrian Government on its mettle to manifest by concrete performance that its courts are in fact competent to render justice to foreigners in accordance with generally accepted international standards. It would also give the Syrian Government an opportunity to appoint competent foreign magistrates to an Inspectorate General without undue pressure on our part. In the meantime, the continued existence of capitulatory rights on the part of the United States and other countries should go far to prevent any flagrant denial of justice to foreigners, including the French, until such time as a final satisfactory settlement could be reached.
The Department will be interested in learning the reaction of the Foreign Office to the foregoing proposal.
- On October 16.↩